Recent Posts by Jean-Marc Pascal

Gaston Bachelard. Poetic Philosopher

By Friday, August 9, 2019 No tags 0

Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) is an unfairly neglected thinker who succeeded in carving himself a niche in the rich tradition of French philosophy of science. Trained as a physics and chemistry high school teacher, Bachelard took an early interest in epistemology at a time when Einstein was publicising both his theories of relativity and propounding a radically new conception of the interaction between space and time. Bachelard’s project was not to get rid of a philosophical approach of science but, on the ...

Philosophers and the Project of Perpetual Peace (2)

Immanuel Kant’s conception of perpetual peace took into account the propositions already developed by l’Abbé de Saint-Pierre and Rousseau while exploring new routes leading to the end of all possible conflicts between so-called “civilised nations”. His preoccupation with the subject was mooted in his early writings of the 1750’s and 60’s before finding a theoretical formulation in his ‘Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose’ in 1784 and his treatise ‘Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch’, published in 1795 ...

Is New Realism all that new?

Markus Gabriel is the new rising star of German Philosophy with the success of his book ‘Why the World does not Exist’, first published in 2013, a year after Maurizio Ferraris’s ‘Manifesto for a New Realism’. The thirty-nine year old Professor invites his reader to reconsider the question already raised in 1986 by Thomas Nagel in his stimulating ‘Views From Nowhere’: ‘How to combine the perspective of a particular person inside the world with an objective view of that same ...

Philosophers and the Project of Perpetual Peace (1)

The idea of a project of perpetual peace between European nations was anticipated long before the six member states of the original Economic European Union signed the Treaty of Rome in March 1957. If security and stability are often guaranteed through the agency of military force, such as the Pax Romana, long-term peace requires a deeper understanding of peoples’ aspirations and a wider perspective on what states can reasonably expect to achieve through diplomatic means.  Eighteenth-century philosophers were convinced of the ...

Michel Serres. Messenger of Knowledge

The world of philosophy has lost one of its most popular figures with the death of Michel Serres on June 1st. First attracted to a career in the French Navy, the young officer soon realised that philosophy was his true passion along with mathematics and the history of science. On the strength of his eclectic philosophical knowledge, he went on to elaborate a five-volume theory of communication under the aegis of Hermes, the Greek god of trade and commerce. Like the ...

In Praise of the European Spirit

Europe is going through one of the recurrent identity crises which have punctuated its long history. Some journalists and pundits contemptuously reject the very idea of a ‘European Civilisation’ and in a strange exercise of self-hatred, take full personal responsibility when the ghosts of slavery and colonisation are evoked. Yet, no other continent is prepared to face its worst demons and question its cultural and intellectual legacy in a period defined by confusion and uncertainty. This ability to question our ...

Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Popular Sovereignty

Public and social media are inundated with vitriolic declarations calling for the toppling of political institutions and their replacement by the infallible diktats of the so-called ‘sovereignty of the people’. Rousseau was the first modern theorist of this complex and ambiguous notion, analysed and developed in his seminal essay, The Social Contract, published in 1762. The proud ‘citizen of the City of Geneva’, lay down the foundations of a republican form of government resting on the principle of the sovereignty ...

Hegel on Freedom

Hegel’s conception of freedom is central to his Introduction to the Philosophy of History and his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) in which it is described as one of its most immediately perceived properties. Yet, it is only through philosophy as speculative knowledge that freedom can fulfil itself. For Hegel, universal history is the slow progress of its understanding and advent through three stages: the earliest one is to be found in Antiquity and is epitomised by the autocratic power of ...

The Search for Authenticity

The term ‘authentic’ derives from the Greek ‘autos’ or self and ‘hentes’, originally meaning ‘worker’ and by extension ‘agent’. The notion of authenticity is alien to ancient philosophers for whom only the free man as opposed to slaves, women and children, is capable of a full rational judgement, dictated by a code of honour or informed by moral principles such as the ones developed by Aristotle in his ‘Ethics’. Augustine introduced a spiritual dimension to the self which emphasised the ...

Artificial Intelligence and Philosophy

Back in 1936, the English mathematician, Alan Turing, imagined a theoretical contraption capable of replicating thought processes. The ‘Turing machine’ proved that instances of intelligent cognition could be produced outside a human brain. Artificial intelligence was born and after the war, Turing went on to work on the first stored-program computer, at the University of Manchester. In 1950, in an article published in the philosophy journal Mind, he wrote: ‘I believe that at the end of the century, the use ...

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